Thursday, August 20, 2015

Minn. loop heads through wooded ravines

Ravine Trail. Photo courtesy of Washington County Parks.

Hardwood forest
makes for great
autumn walk

Day hikers can explore wooded gorges that run near the Mississippi River in Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park.

The 2-mile packed turf Ravine Trail loops through Washington County Park in Cottage Grove, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Because of the varied hardwood trees, the trail makes for a pretty autumn walk.

To reach the trail, from U.S. Hwy. 61 in Cottage Grove go northeast on County Road 19 then right/southeast onto E. Point Douglas Road. The park service road is a left/northeast turn. Head to the second parking lot located where the entry road loops back on itself. A playground, picnic tables, and restrooms can be found in this area.

From the parking lot, head northeast on the far-right trail. It climbs up the ravine through stands of ash, birch and maple.

Ravines are deep, narrow steep-sided gorges formed by running water. They are much narrower than a canyon yet much wider than a gully.

At trail junction 2 (numbered markers appear on the path), go right/northeast. Aspens are more prevalent there.

The trail next follows a grassy area for about 0.2 miles. At both trail junctions 5 and 6, continue straight/northwest.

Varied wildlife
The route leaves the grassy area at trail junction 7 as it reaches the top of the ravine and enters a stands of upland oaks, cedars and aspens with an understory of snowberry and sumac. Junction 7 is the park’s highest point.

The ravine slopes receive different sun exposures, resulting in varied habitats supporting a variety of wildlife. Among them are cottontail rabbits, deer, ermine, grouse, and several bird species. Listen for the tap, tap, tap of the pileated woodpecker in spring and early summer.

Next, the trail curves north through a meadow with tree islands. At the four-way trail junction 8, go left/west.

From there, the trail descends steeply back into a ravine. As it does, notice how which trees are dominant changes again. The understory also differs with more prickly ash and sumac appearing.

At trail junction 15, go left/southwest. The trail curves southwest and descends steadily.

Miniature bluffs
Water running through these ravines ultimately flows into the Mississippi River about a mile to the southwest. In many ways, the ravines are miniature models of bluffs on the St. Croix River, which also flows into the Mississippi a few miles to the west.

As closing on the loops’ southern end, a spur trail leads to a pond about 40 yards on the left. Ducks and a few other shorebirds usually spend summers there.

South of the pond, the main trail begins to curve more sharply east. At trail junction 16, go straight/southeast.

The trail then comes to the lake shoreline, which it follows for about 0.2 miles. Upon reaching the picnic area near trailhead, you’ll have completed the loop and should easily be able to spot the parking lot.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.